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O-Zone: Big-game hunter

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville:
Please clarify something. Isn't the schedule already set by the division we are facing that year? Eight games for division opponents, four from the rotational division we face, then I guess the other four games are decided based on your previous year's success. So the previous year's record only impacts the schedule by four games?
John: You're in the right ballpark, but not the right section. Or something close to something like that. NFL schedules are set like this: six games against teams in your division, four from a division within your conference and four from a division in the other conference. That's 14 games, with two more decided by how you fared the previous season. The Jaguars next season will play six games against the rest of the AFC South, four against the entire NFC East and four against the entire AFC East. Because they won the AFC South, they also will play the champions of the AFC North (Pittsburgh) and AFC West (Kansas City). It's the latter part that makes next season's schedule look tough. Rather than playing, for example, the last-place Cleveland Browns (AFC North) and Denver Broncos (AFC West), the Jaguars next season will play the Steelers and Chiefs. It's only two games, but the Steelers and Chiefs are tough two games.
Brian from Greenwood, IN:
Remember when Shad Khan said he would make the Jaguars the hottest ticket in town?
John: I do. And he did.
Chuck from Charleston, SC:
All of the questions about resting players this week. Didn't Tom Coughlin play his front-line players in the last game of the season the year they beat the previously undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl? It worked pretty good that year.
John: He did. And it did.
Howard from Homestead, FL:
Why is the stadium capacity more than 16,100 seats less for a Jaguars playoff game than for the Florida/Georgia game? I get that additional seats are added for the college game, but can't the Jaguars do for themselves what they're doing for others?
John: You theoretically could add the seats, but to do so would eliminate a lot of the fan-experience elements in place for the Jaguars' home games.
Tom from St. Johns, FL:
John, just saw your O-Zone Live interview with Dede Westbrook and it answered the question of why he has blossomed so quickly into a stud. The guy is the opposite of everything the media had tried to imply he was. He is intelligent, humble, talented as all hell and has a great grasp on what the whole thing is about. Thanks for letting see what a future All-Pro wide receiver is really like.
John: Thanks. I was on my A Game in that interview and Dede helped out, too.
Chris from Mandarin, FL:
What has happened to the pass rush? Sure, there were four sacks against the Texans and Colts, but the second half of the season there hasn't been as much going on from that standpoint. This is the wrong time of year to lose one of your calling cards.
John: The Jaguars' pass rush has slipped a bit statistically, but I don't know that "there hasn't been much going on." The Jaguars have 17 sacks in the last seven games, so if they get two in the finale Sunday they will have 19 in the second half of the season. That's a pace for 38 for the season, which by my estimation would put the Jaguars around 10-to-14 in the NFL in sacks. It's not the feverish pace they set in the first half of the season, but it's not bad. Why the dropoff? They have played quarterbacks who did a nice job escaping the run (Russell Wilson and Blaine Gabbert) and they also played a couple of quarterbacks who did a nice job getting the ball out quickly (Jimmy Garoppolo and Philip Rivers). Sacks are less important than pressures, though, and from this view the Jaguars still have done a good job in the second half of the season getting pressure.
Sam from Boston, MA:
Logan is correct and you are wrong. Don't worry, though, as we're used to that at this point. The Jaguars' defense has played great at times. Usually against a team with an offense as inept as ours. You're arrogance is only bested by your lack of impartiality. If you don't like communicating in this forum, you should move on.
John: This is on me. I have little-to-no experience being wrong, so I've got to figure out the terrain. I will say this, though: While you're insights are appreciated and valued, I must be forgiven for incorrectly assessing the Jaguars' defense against offenses as inept as their own. What makes it difficult is the Jaguars only have faced one offense ranked higher than its own inept sixth-ranked offense – the Steelers' presumably third-ranked offense. The Jaguars held that "un-inept" offense to three field goals and intercepted the quarterback five times, all of which I arrogantly and incorrectly interpreted as "not sucking." I'll move on now. I need to nap. Arrogance makes one sleepy.
Paul from St. Johns, FL:
With us "wanting" to win Sunday, but also likely wanting to rest players if we get a big lead early, what are the chances BB5 comes out slinging it all over the yard in an effort to get quick scores? It seems to me the more plays we take to score, the more chances we have for injury and fatigue going into the playoffs. How much of a lead and by when would we need to take out the starters?
John: I don't anticipate the Jaguars taking a fast-and-loose, throw-it-all-over-the-yard-because-we-need-to-get-a-lead approach. I think they'll play as they normally would in a normal circumstance. If they get a lead, great. If not, I think they'll play to win – just as Head Coach Doug Marrone has said would be the case.
Brian from Round Rock, TX:
I'm tired of the teeth-gnashing over the running game. I think there is value in running the ball, regardless of yards per carry. Maybe the run game is too complicated for many to understand, but it has value outside of yards per carry. It wears a defense, breaks its will, instills a physicality and confidence on offense, it opens up play-action passing, it creates man-to-man outside coverage, it slows the pass rush, it creates offensive balance and keeps defenses honest. Etc., etc., etc. Got it? Keep running. Two-point-five yards per carry … fine. Keep running.
John: Nah. I can't say 2.5 yards-per-carry is fine. It needs to be closer to 3.5 – somewhere in there. But you're right that you must keep trying even if it fails.
Realfun from Funeral:
Do you still hold your wife's hand?
John: Yes.
Kevin from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario:
What team do you feel the Jaguars would best match up against in the Wild Card round? Worst matchup? I'm thinking Buffalo, Baltimore, Tennessee then the Chargers in order of most-to-least preferred. Also, do you agree with Doug Marrone's strategy to play the starters and risk injury given it's largely a meaningless game aside from gaining "momentum" going into the playoffs?
John: I think the Bills would be the best matchup for the Jaguars followed by the Titans, the Ravens and the Chargers, but that's only because I'm forced to pick. There's no such thing as an easy playoff victory. As far as playing starters, I usually lean toward resting players in this situation – not because of the risk of injury but in the interest of keeping players fast and fresh. In this case, I think the Jaguars will play fast however much rest they get in the coming weeks. Marrone's thought is that for this team this is the right move and he's probably right. This is a young team that plays on adrenaline. It typically has bounced back from losses well. I don't know that these young players need to have a week without being motivated and trying to win.
Paul from Auburn, AL:
How come the Jags always revert back to the "find-a-way-to-lose" mentality in big games?
John: This is a tricky question, which I suppose is my way of saying I haven't the foggiest idea what it means. The Jaguars didn't play any big games from 2011-2016, and they are 10-5 this season. They beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5, but perhaps that wasn't a big game. They also beat the Seattle Seahawks in early December and followed that by clinching a postseason berth the following week with a victory over the Houston Texans. Those, I gather, were not big games. They won seven of eight games in a late-season stretch this season. Those, too, must not have been big games. They then lost a game last week to the San Francisco 49ers after they had clinched the AFC South. I can only assume that was a big game. But mostly I suppose this is a long-winded way of saying, "What do you mean by big games?"

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